The ‘Mother Factory’: IRC Tires in Japan
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IRC Tires may seem like a new player in the gravel world, but its success is no fluke. IRC’s history in the dirt runs deep, as we learned speaking with Fuyuhiro “Frank” Tsunekuni, director of IRC’s bike division, at the manufacturer’s ‘mother factory’ in Wakayanagi, 90min or so north of Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. Frank is a man with a relaxed authority, a man that knows of what he speaks when it comes to tires. He’s been making tires for over 30years, and has developed tires with some of the sport’s legends. Frank gave us a factory tour and sat down to explain to us why IRC is so well placed to make not just gravel tires, but any bike tire imaginable. It’s all about experience, expertise and cutting edge Japanese manufacturing.
Images: Steve Driscoll – LiftCS
PELOTON: IRC is a new name to many US riders, but its history runs deep. When did you start at IRC Tires and what tires did you develop?
Frank: I started working with IRC in the 1980’s. At that time, working with Tom Ritchey to make MTB specific tires was the main project. Since mountain bikes then didn’t have any suspension, Ritchey requested high pressure, lightweight tires. Working together with Ritchey, IRC created the X-1 (Cross Country Tire), the Kujo (DH Tire), and a tubeless MTB tire in 1990’s. The tubeless tire, Mythos, and Kujo were a big success at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. In the early 2000’s IRC started creating road tubeless, we were one of the first tire brands to work on road tubeless, and today, IRC creates a wide variety of tires.
PELOTON: The new IRC gravel tires have become incredibly popular in the US in a very short time, how does that previous experience help you create great gravel tires?
Frank: Not all bicycle riders needed road race tires, so we created gravel tires to let riders have fun riding from pavement to gravel. One thing I can say with confidence is that, IRC makes high pressure road tubeless, and tubeless cyclocross tires, so we have the materials and technologies required for gravel tubeless ready tires. We have combined both high pressure and low pressure tubeless technologies together into gravel tires. Using all our know-how to make the ultimate tires is the key for us. Our tubeless system never fails, even at low pressure and tire bead will never come off from the rim. Rider safety is a major concern for IRC.
PELOTON: IRC makes motorcycle tires as well, how does that expertise play into making bike tires?
Frank: IRC is a two wheel tire manufacture (Ed: motorcycle and bicycle), and combining both technologies together is a major key for us. The reason behind our tubeless system’s success is that we have been making motorcycle tubeless tires for decades. Also, our compound technologies share both motorcycle and bicycle know-how. The bicycle is a human powered vehicle, so it requires low rolling resistance and comfort, and sharing low rolling resistance compounds with motorcycle tires, we are able to create low energy, efficient tires. The transfer goes both ways. Our motorcycle compound technologies, such as motocross, use soft and grippy compounds, so using the same compound on MTB tires, we can make the ultimate enduro tires. Those are some of the things we do in our Research and Development Center.
PELOTON: IRC has many facilities and factories in Japan and overseas, what’s so special about this factory?
Frank: The Wakayanagi factory functions as the “mother factory” to all other IRC related factories. We do production and development in this factory and share the same technologies to overseas, so we can make the same quality and specifications in any other IRC factory.
With IRC’s vast experience, both in bicycle and motorcycle tires, it’s no surprise they are seeing so much success in both road tubeless and gravel. It seems as though cyclists have finally caught up with IRC, embracing tubeless and riding off road. With the Formula PRO line holding down the fort on the road tubeless front and the SeracCX and new Boken handling drop bar dirt duties, IRC’s future looks to be as bright as its storied success in the ‘90s.